Ask the Rabbi

  • Torah and Jewish Thought
  • Torah Teachings

Letters of Hebrew and Kabbalah


Rabbi Ari Shvat

Tammuz 4, 5780
Shalom, I study Hebrew letters and their history and form, and learned that modern Hebrew letters as we know today come from Ktav Ashurit, which was based off of Aramaic. One of my Torah teachers says Aramaic is a very holy language, but even if it is so, Aramaic letters, which when one looks in history sees modern Hebrew letters really are based off of, is not actually the original Hebrew, to my understanding. If that is so, how is it that I was told, that Sefer Hayetzira describes the Hebrew letters, looking in their modern form and described in the modern shape they are in, as the letters that formed all of Creation? If they were originally Aramaic in shape and in form? I’m confused....
There are 3 opinions in the Talmud regarding which letters the Torah was given (Sanhedrin 21b): one opinion is that it was given in what's called "ancient Hebrew" script and was changed by Ezra to ktav ashurit or "square letters" (what we use today), but that opinion is rejected. The accepted opinion there is that it was given in our square letters. The Rambam details, that Holy topics like Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot, were always written in square letters (like today). On the other hand, out of respect for these holy square letters, secular topics were always written in different, secular letters [in ancient times, what is called "ancient Hebrew"; in sefaradic countries: ktav m'shita= called today "Rashi letters"; and today: what we call "Hebrew script"]. Accordingly, the ancient coins found by archeologists (which are not holy, but secular), are always in "ancient Hebrew" letters, even though most of the coins were minted centuries after Ezra's Aliya from Babylon. To this day, many religious Jews will also not use the holy "square letters" for anything secular, while the more lenient opine that as long as the letters don't have crowns like in the Torah, one is allowed to use them for secular topics. Archeologists have proven the Rambam correct, for the most ancient Torah scrolls found among the Dead Sea Scrolls from 2,000 years ago, were in our holy square letters, just that in some- apparently used for childrens' education and not for synagogue use- God's Name was written in "ancient Hebrew" letters, out of reverence for His actual Name (similar to what today we prefer to use the secular "Elokim" or "Hashem", instead of the holy "Elohim" or God's actual Name). In other words, the accepted opinion is that the Torah was given in the letters we use today, and accordingly, it's logical to have ancient kabbalistic traditions about these letters and their shape (e.g. the letters samech and mem sofit were roundish and their engraving on the tablets "stood" by miracle). As for Aramaic, it is regarded a "sister" to Hebrew, and that's why, even though a get (bill of divorce) must be written in one language, the standard format is a mixture of Hebrew and Aramaic, for they are halachically considered one language. This is clear to anyone who knows both languages, that most Aramaic is really Hebrew. That's also why it doesn't bother us that the Talmud Bavli, one of the most basic Jewish classics, contains a lot of Aramaic, for it can also be considered the "National Language" to a certain extent.
את המידע הדפסתי באמצעות אתר